UH Applied Research Lab Powers Up

With High Performance Computing for the DOD

High speed networking is utilized for MHPCC supercomputing resources.

WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK ABOUT KIHEI, MAUI, they envision year-round sunshine, sprawling white sand beaches and an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and vacation condos. However, for Daniel K. Inouye, the late U.S. Senator from Hawai‘i, what he had in mind was something entirely different. What the powerful and influential lawmaker saw was an opportunity to bring high-tech research and development to the state through the creation of a center for excellence in supercomputing.

In 1993, Senator Inouye’s vision became a reality with the establishment of the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC), now one of five such centers in the country under the Department of Defense’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) that feature large-scale supercomputers, high-speed networks, multi-petabyte archival mass storage systems, and computational experts.  The center has allocated more than 70 million computational hours annually to the HPCMP research, development, test and evaluation community. As part of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the center also supports the telescopes of the U.S. Space Force’s Maui Space Surveillance System atop Haleakalā that are used to view and track objects in space. It has been managed and operated by the University of Hawai‘i (UH) since 2001.  

Mission Transition

In 2017, the Maui High Performance Computing Center became part of the Vanguard Center for High Performance Computing (Vanguard Center) contract. The move marked the transition of the MHPCC from being primarily a pure computing resource center to becoming part of a “vanguard” of research and development in high performance computing systems and technologies under the management of the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawai‘i (ARL at UH).    

MHPCC data center.

The ARL at UH is a virtual center of excellence that conducts research; development testing and evaluation to address challenging and emerging problems for the Navy and national defense needs in core competency areas that include, ocean research, astronomy, sensor development, remote sensing, renewable energy, public service; and most recently — high performance computing. It was established in 2008 and is the fifth of five Navy-sponsored University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs).

In May 2020, ARL at UH was awarded a four-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract by the AFRL to maintain essential engineering, research and development capabilities at the Vanguard Center by conducting scientific and technology investigations, providing scientific expertise, capabilities and facilities to turn basic theories into to deployable applications in the areas of sensor development, image processing, command and control integration, advance data visualization and analytics, machine learning and autonomy.

“Our tasking is essentially to lower barriers to usage of a modern high-performance computing ecosystem and high-performance computing backed systems,” said Margo Edwards, director of ARL at UH. “Our work also allows the Department of Defense to leverage the core competencies of ARL at UH to accomplish research, test and evaluation of those systems.”

Impressive Early Successes

With the emergence of more powerful computers, machine learning and data visualization, there has been a shift to re-engineer old systems and workflows into a digital format to increase collaboration, communication, efficiency and security. This shift, known as digital engineering (DE), is being embraced by many organizations. ARL at UH/Vanguard Center’s role in the successful development and deployment of the U.S. Navy’s effort, known as the Naval Leveraging Innovations, Frameworks and Technologies (LIFT) ecosystem, has garnered the attention of the other services and commands.

Vanguard Center Executive Director Tiare K. Martin

Today, with an endless flow of real-time data, the traditional computing paradigm built on a centralized data center and everyday internet is not ideal, often impaired by bandwidth limitations, latency issues and unpredictable network disruptions. Edge computing, which moves some portions of data storage and computational resources out of a central data center and closer to the user on the “edge,” is steadily being implemented.  Recently, ARL at UH/Vanguard Center successfully deployed a prototype edge computing system to support the United States Indo-Pacific Command and the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command as a part of the Pacific Ecosystem for Cybersecurity (PEcoC) initiative.

“The PEcoC project is evidence that ARL at UH/Vanguard Center has the ability and expertise to modernize high performance computing for the Nation and positively impact Pacific and National Joint Force efforts across the globe,” said Tiare K. Martin, executive director of the Vanguard Center.

The Department of Defense wants to leverage the innovation coming from research centers affiliated with universities, and ARL at UH and Vanguard Center are two pillars we can use to help grow the technology industry in Hawai‘i.

– Tiare K. Martin

High-Tech Workforce

Senator Inouye also saw high performance computing as a foundational driver for the establishment of a high-tech economic sector and workforce on Maui. Martin, who was named executive director in July 2021, is a prime example of his vision.  Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Martin earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of San Diego. After a stint at Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems Center in California, Martin returned to Hawai‘i to work as Maui site manager for Oceanit, a locally owned company specializing in creation of disruptive technologies. She joined the Vanguard Center as a program manager in 2017. Of the 37 current employees at Vanguard Center, 70 percent hail from Hawai‘i.

“Through the ARL at UH/Vanguard Center the University of Hawai‘i is addressing vital national defense needs while expanding our research enterprise into emerging technologies critical for the future,” said UH President David Lassner, who has served as the program’s principal investigator since 2001. “We are honored to be a steward of Senator Inouye’s vision of a high-tech industry providing some of the best jobs on Maui.”